Gender inequality in Honduras

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An old Honduran woman resting at the road side in San Ramon Choluteca.

Honduras has experienced major economic and social developments since the 1980s. These changes have been positive overall, bringing more gender equality in Honduras and much higher quality of life for everyone, especially women. Even with the improvements, there is still a long way to go in shrinking the gender gap that by the world's standards is gaping. In the 2011 Human Development Report, Honduras placed 121st out of 187 countries.[1]

The country's ranking specific to gender inequality is 105th out of 146 countries, with an overall value of 0.511 out of 1 in terms of HDI (with 1 representing perfect inequality).[1]

Many of the inequalities stem from longstanding cultural norms and traditions that have been in place for hundreds of years revolving around the tasks and roles played in the agricultural society of old gender roles in Mesoamerica.

Gender roles In Honduras[edit]

As Honduras is known for having a patriarchy system, gender roles are quite prominent. Men dominate the public sphere while women are supposed to conform and adhere to the realm of the domestic sphere. Subsequently, women are not allowed to participate in traditional male positions in society; the male is expected to be the head of the household and the main provider. This also gives men the right to make important decisions over women such as when they may procreate, how many children women may have, when and how many daily chores shall be done, if they may receive education, and whether or not they may enter the workforce.[2]

Women's rights[edit]

Through the Decree No. 29 of 1995, Honduran women's political rights, their right to vote, and political activity were finally achieved.[3] However it was not until 1957 that Honduran women were officially allowed to participate in national elections under the term of Ramon Villleda Morales. Some stipulations included that only women who were able to read vote. This still hindered the majority of the female population, due to them being in the domestic sphere and not having attained high levels of education, therefore making most women illiterate at the time.

Gender politics[edit]

Politics of gender is an examination of the roles and associations of women and men, in regard to responsibilities, rights, and privileges in a specified society. Each society distinguishes emotional differences among women and men. The authority and strength associated with men and the tenderness associated with women is “the views of every society that has ever existed". [4]

In Honduras, gender inequality is at an all-time high. In the public and private domain, women do not share the same equal rights as men. Unfortunately, this issue of unfairness is causing social and economical development to be slow. Honduras ranks very low on the Human Development Index (HDI), "a measurement of wellbeing and quality of life for citizens".[5]

The participation of women should be identical to men in all fields. There are conferences and organizations that help solve the issue of inequality. For instance, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women assisted in revising and adopting women's rights in legislation.

The opportunities for Honduran women are slim to none, and because of this, women do not lead their households. If they do, their households are very poor in contrast to the households led by men. This is mainly because of the lack of resources given to women. Also, in order to improve gender equality, the self-government of females has to be stronger.[6]

Gender Inequality Index (GII) of Honduras[edit]

In 2011, Honduras ranked 105th out of 146 countries on the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Gender Inequality Index (GII). This is a multidimensional index that measures and reports a country's level of gender inequality. It is represented in a single number which helps represent where countries stand on gender issues. This number is based on the average of statistics in three categories: reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity. These statistics can give a general idea of how a country fares on gender issues relative to all 146 countries in the study, and also against other countries from the same region. The overall comparison between the HDI and the gender inequality index would suggest that Honduras is performing better and progressing faster on gender issues than on general welfare. These changes have come as a result of social and political shifts in opinion on the role of women in society. Since the 1980s the overall value of Honduras' HDI has averaged an increase of 1.6% annually, which is an impressive improvement that has brought them over a 30% positive increase to date.[1]

Reproductive health[edit]

Reproductive health is usually gauged in terms of the maternal mortality rate, which is the number of mothers per 100,000 who die from pregnancy-related causes. In 2011, Honduras had a rate of 110 deaths per 100,000 live births. Many of these deaths come as a result of unregulated and illegally performed abortions which leave the women at great risk for infection. Another indicator is the adolescent fertility rate, which is the number of live births per 1,000 adolescent mothers (ages 13–18). For every 1,000 births in Honduras, 93.3, or almost 10 percent, were to adolescent mothers. This high rate is a negative indicator not only for the women who are having children at such a young age, but also for the community as a whole. Women who have children as adolescents put their children in a situation where they are much more likely to be raised in poverty, due to the fact that the secondary education dropout rate is significantly higher among adolescents who have children.

The GII also shows that as of 2011 only 65 percent of women aged 15–49 are using any form of contraception and only 67% of women have a skilled professional present for the birth of their child. This low level of contraception use has not equated to a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Only 0.2 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men are infected. Having fewer women than men infected with AIDS is usually a trend found in more developed countries. The bad news on that front is that, according to Sister Namibia, "the sale of young girls and women into prostitution slavery plays a major role in the transmission of AIDS among heterosexual couples."[7] This practice is leading to an increase of cases of AIDS.

The final contributing factor to reproductive health is the birth rate, which is three, meaning that on average every woman will have three children. This number can be multiplied by the prevalence of pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 to find the overall odds that any given woman will die from pregnancy complications.

Reproductive and sexual rights[edit]

Fifty percent of births to women under the age of twenty were unplanned and nearly the same number of young women between the ages of 18 and 24 reported becoming sexually active, poorer women at higher rates. Access to birth control is typically more available to married women between the ages of 18 and 24. In regards to women's understanding of safe sex practices in Honduras, the vast majority of adolescents understand how and where to obtain condoms and have knowledge of HIV/AIDS prevention, but only a third of the population have a full educational awareness of the virus itself. Young women in urban areas have twice as much knowledge of HIV/AIDS compared to urban youth. The highest formal awareness is among the wealthiest of teens, and the least amount of awareness is among the poorest. Abortion has been illegal in Honduras since it was banned in 1997. The Honduran Supreme Court banned the use of contraceptives for emergency purposes in 2012, making the unlawful administering or receiving of it punishable in the same way as abortion. Teenagers must have parental consent in order to be tested for HIV/AIDS. In 2010, the Honduran government signed the Ministerial Declaration of Preventing through Education, which set the goal of bettering the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents by implementing more quality sex education programs in schools, among other related goals.


The UNDP's GII includes two measures as indicators of empowerment. These indicators are the percentage of parliament seats held by women compared to men, and the percentage of women with a least secondary education compared to men. In 2011, women in Honduras made up 18 percent of the parliament, which is very low when compared to other countries with similar overall GII rankings. The educational attainment is much closer to even: 31.9 percent of women and 36.3 percent of men have received at least secondary education. This may not look like a big difference, but when you look at the statistics worldwide, it looks quite a bit worse. In the more developed parts of the world, women are significantly more likely to receive a secondary education. In the United States, for example, in 2013, 57% of college students were women compared to 43% men. Greater disparity comes when you look at the transition from education to the workplace.

Perhaps the most telling statistic on empowerment, the question "who is the decision maker" was posed to families in Honduras and an amazing 91.3 percent of those people answered the man was the primary decision maker vs. 8.7% female.[8] This response suggests that the root of the gender problem in Honduras is the idea of patriarchy being the only way to operate and that women should always be the followers and caregivers, but not the decision makers. This insight into the culture of Honduras may be the key to development. Countries cannot simply stop in their tracks and change. It is only through the merging of old and new in the most seamless way that true and lasting change can be achieved.

A common form of empowerment is through political channels. Women in Honduras find themselves almost entirely cut out of the political system. The constant fight for survival has kept most women out of organized labor parties where their grievances could potentially be heard. If people want their plight to be recognized, they typically need an organized movement to make the government listen. Honduran mothers who spend countless hours providing unpaid labor while also playing the role of the primary breadwinner, have no time to bring their case to the political stage.

Economic activity[edit]

Economic activity in the GII is based on only one statistic: the proportion of females compared to males in the labor force. As of 2009, that rate was reported as being 40.1% of women and 80.2% of men, or exactly twice as many men.

In the 2008 Global Gender Gap Index, Honduras was ranked 21st out of 74 countries on their general index value.[1] Pulled from the same data but for the economic participation and opportunity sub-index they were ranked 47th.[1] That is a change of 26 spots when talking about general-well being versus economic inclusion. This is yet another indicator that gender inequality is lower in economic indicators.

On issues of women's health, Honduras did better than other countries close to it on the index, but the economic opportunities and participation leave a lot of room for improvement economically.

There has been a recent wave of immigration consisting mostly of young women moving from rural to urban areas in order to find work. This has led to urban centers in Honduras being made up of over 53% women.[1] According to Sister Namibia this has resulted in "rapid urban growth in recent years has spawned various social problems, including unemployment, lack of adequate housing and basic services, all of which affect women most severely."[1]

Labor force participation[edit]

Men are twice as likely to be employed in Honduras as are women, and there are very strong stereotypes of what men's and women's jobs should be. Much of this comes from the Mesoamerican ideas of gender. Gender role stereotypes are reinforced from a young age. Boys are given machetes and girls are given meteates (the instrument women use to grind corn into meal).

Rural women carry out very important roles in agricultural life, but are prohibited from stepping out of those boundaries. Women cook, clean, plant crops and even tend animals, but only men are allowed to plow the fields. These roles from ancient culture are still evident even today - women are seen as limited on what they can and can't accomplish. The idea of male and female jobs also carries over into the field of unpaid labor, as women perform a great deal more unpaid labor than men.

Although women have seen an increase in labor force participation in the past few decades, that is not necessarily an indication of equality in the labor force. This slow transition for women from unpaid to paid labor is a step in the right direction, but there is still much to be done in the battle for equal pay, jobs, and treatment. Women, in addition to having to work twice as hard in order to get a traditionally male-held job, are then paid less than their male counterparts for doing exactly the same job. Women are seen as a second choice as breadwinner in the home. They are preferred to stay home, work as homemakers, and become dependent on their dominant husbands. This gender role is carried into the workplace, making women secondary priority as employees.

Although women are seen as a second choice for a breadwinner, it is becoming more and more common for women to be the main, and in many cases the sole breadwinner. Yoked with this burden of providing for a family while living in a country where one's labor is not valued can be extremely difficult. This has forced many women to be innovative and flexible when it comes to providing for their families.

Many resort to operating food carts or peddling cheap merchandise on street corners. While this is a way to feed a family, it is also detrimental to the cause for women and plays a part in widening the gender gap even further. Overall the average woman makes considerably less than her male counterpart, and is usually forced into industries with little to no benefits and almost no job security.

Distribution of wealth by gender[edit]

Much can be said about the power any one group has in its respective society, based solely on what share of the wealth that group has. Women in Honduras have a very small share of the overall wealth, and even the parts that they have seem to reinforce their roles as homemakers and caretakers. This is a table showing the ratio of ownership.

Home ownership: Women- 38% Men- 59% joint- %3 Land ownership: Women- 12.8% Men- 87.2% Cattle: Women- 13% Men- 72% Joint- 15% Work animals: Women- 10% Men- 85% Joint- 5%[8]

Women have a slight edge in ownership over chickens and pigs, but the place where women really have ownership is in consumer durables. They tend to own more sewing machines, blenders, irons, stoves, toasters, and fridges, whereas men tend to own the computers, bikes, motorcycles, and cars. The assets that are predominantly owned by the women are of relatively small value compared to the high-value items that are owned almost exclusively by the men.

The underlying message given here is that women own the chickens and the pigs, because they can then prepare them into a meal. They also own the items necessary to sew, blend, iron, cook, bake, and prepare and serve food. They do not, however, have the assets necessary to gain physical mobility through the means of owning a car or bicycle, check email, or cultivate a field.

Educational attainment of women[edit]

School girls in Honduras

The statistics from the Gender Inequality Index on secondary education rates of men and women are fairly similar, with 31.9% of women and 36.3% of men receiving at least a secondary education. The reason for this difference in numbers is the patriarchal nature of Honduras. If times get tough and only one child in a family is going to be educated, any female children will lose their chance at education before the boys. This is due to the fact that it is much harder for a female to find work regardless of educational achievement. The sought-after, well-paying jobs are commonly associated with masculinity in Honduras, including heavy manual labor, technical work, and anything that requires extensive training or an advanced degree. It is clear that women can find some sort of work, since the main reason that they are pulled out of school in the first place is usually to help provide additional income for the family, which leads to the difference in educational attainment. places Honduras in the class of 11%-15% difference between male and female secondary education levels, or some legal or cultural educational restrictions for females.[9] These barriers of entry into education are almost exclusively societal, with families giving educational preference to the children who they think will not only find work, but find the highest paying work available.

Honduras does have a fairly high literacy rate of 81%, with more women than men being literate: 42% of women and 39% of men. More girls than boys enroll in primary school. Starting in secondary school, the number of females starts to diminish and becomes worse and worse up until the university level. Even when women do attain a college degree it is typically in nursing or teaching. The social emphasis is placed much more heavily on men to receive education.

Gender/sexuality-based violence[edit]

Gender-based violence is violence against an individual or group based on their gender. This consists of physical, mental, or sexual actions by force or taking away someone’s liberty. Although gender-based violence is often targeted towards women, men may also be victims of harassment or beatings because they "do not conform to the view of masculinity, which is accepted by society". [10]

Violence against women occurs in public and in private, and demonstrates the inequality of power between women and men. This has led to women being dominated and discriminated against by men and this violence forces women "into a subordinate position compared with men". [11]

The most common form of gender-based violence is sexual in nature. Understandably, sexual violence involves exploitation and abuse and is related "to any act, attempt, or threat that results in physical and emotional harm". [12] Sexual violence can occur in the family, through rape or marital rape, coercion, by attempt, in the form of harassment and as a weapon of war or torture. [13] There are four more types of gender/sexuality-based violence:

  • Physical violence
  • Emotional and psychological violence
  • Harmful traditional practices violence: This consists of female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage, forced marriage, honor killing and maiming (murdering a woman as a punishment for dishonoring or bringing shame to the family), infanticide, and denial of education.
  • Socio-economic violence: This involves discrimination or denial of opportunities, social exclusion based on sexual orientation, and obstructive legislative practice (inhibiting women from using their social or economic rights).

In Honduras, the rate of gender-based killing, or femicide, is rated in sixth place according to a study done in 2011. [14] In current years the rates of violence against women have increased. In this country, femicide is extremely brutal. Sometimes bodies are found burned or with the feet and hands tied. During the autopsies, it is often discovered that rape has occurred before the victim's death. In Honduras, any form of rape is considered a public crime and a report will be made even if charges are not pressed by the victim.

Sadly, in Honduras, and in many countries surrounding it, justice against femicide does not get served. Although there are women’s rights activists trying to take a stand, "fewer than 3% of reported femicide cases are resolved by the courts". [15] This only gives the perpetrators more power and confidence to commit these crimes knowing that they will not be convicted, which makes femicide the norm in Honduras.

Domestic Violence Act[edit]

An estimated 27 percent of Honduran women report that they have endured some form of physical violence. [16]This may include physical injuries, domestic violence, rape, and homicide. The Public Prosecutor's office recognizes twenty-five forms of violence inflicted upon Honduran women. The violence against women in Honduras is due to multiple reasons which include gender norms, poverty, militarization, drug trafficking, and inequality. [17] As a result, from the years 2005 through 2013, the numbers of violent death arose by two hundred and sixty-three percent. This made the rate of violent deaths of Honduran women increase from 2.7 in 2005 to 14.6 in 2013. [18]This increase in violent deaths is greater than the total amount of homicide rates in countries that are currently engaged in a war zone or armed conflict.

The Domestic Violence Act took effect after a long struggle by women's rights activists to get it passed. The act was focused on dealing with violence in the home, an issue which was largely overlooked by local authorities. The act needed not only to get police to crack down, but the judicial system and social systems also needed to be adjusted to deal with the repercussions. In 1998, the bill was passed and the authorities were charged with the difficult task of dealing with such a widespread and controversial issue. In order to deal with new court cases, special domestic violence judges were assigned to handle the new caseload. The bill was inspired by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as other international organizations in support of women's rights, and had a main goal of reducing violence towards women in Honduras. There was also a network of therapists, charged with providing family counselling to those that were affected by the bill. Men who were sanctioned by the bill were also monitored to reduce the chances of future violence. The bill started off only being enforced around the capital and other major cities, but quickly spread throughout all of Honduras. This was a major step in reducing the frequency and acceptability of gender violence in Honduras.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g UNDP. Human Development Report 2011: Sustainability and Equality. 2011. Technical Report.
  2. ^
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  7. ^ Glimpse the reality of Honduran women. (1992). Sister Namibia, 4(1), 15. Retrieved from (subscription required)
  8. ^ a b Deere, Carmen Diana, Gina E. Alvarado, and Jennifer Twyman. Poverty, Hardship, and Gender Inequality in Asset Ownership in Latin America. Center for Gender in Global Context, Michigan State University, 2010.
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  19. ^ Herrmannsdorfer, Claudia. "Case Study: The Inter-Institutional Commission to Follow-up Implementation of the Domestic Violence Act in Honduras." A PARLIAMENTARY RESPONSE TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN (2009): 97.


  • Ruben, Ruerd. "Nonfarm employment and poverty alleviation of rural farm households in Honduras." World Development 29, no. 3 (2001): 549-560.
  • Unterhalter, Elaine. "Fragmented frameworks? Researching women, gender, education and development." Beyond Access (2005): 15.
  • Von Grebmer, Klaus, Bella Nestorova, Agnes Quisumbing, Rebecca Fertziger, Heidi Fritschel, Rajul Pandya-Lorch, and Yisehac Yohannes. 2009 Global Hunger Index The Challenge of Hunger: Focus on Financial Crisis and Gender Inequality. Vol. 62. Intl Food Policy Res Inst, 2009.

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